Commonly Asked Questions about Addiction and Treatment
What is drug addiction commonly called in the mental health fields?
In the mental health field, drug addiction is commonly referred to as a "Substance Use Disorder" (SUD). This term is used in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), which is the standard classification of mental disorders used by mental health professionals in the United States.
A Substance Use Disorder is defined as a pattern of behaviors characterized by an inability to control or cut down on use, spending a lot of time obtaining the substance, craving the substance, failing to fulfill obligations at work, school, or home due to substance use, and continuing to use the substance despite knowing it's causing physical or psychological harm.
Substance Use Disorders can be further categorized based on the specific substance involved, such as Alcohol Use Disorder, Opioid Use Disorder, Cannabis Use Disorder, and so forth. The severity of the disorder is also assessed (mild, moderate, or severe) based on the number of diagnostic criteria met by an individual.
It's worth noting that this terminology emphasizes the understanding of drug addiction as a medical disorder, rather than a moral failing or a matter of willpower. This shift in language is part of a larger effort to reduce stigma and promote a more compassionate, effective approach to treatment.
What are the effects of drug addiction on the brain?
Drug addiction significantly impacts the brain's structure and function. Here are the key effects:
- Alteration of Neurotransmitters: Drugs can excessively stimulate the brain's reward system by flooding it with dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. This abnormal stimulation produces euphoria and motivates repeated drug use.
- Brain Reward System Disruption: Over time, continued use of drugs leads to changes in other brain circuits and systems. The overstimulation of the reward circuit causes the intensely pleasurable 'high' that leads people to take a drug again and again.
- Cognitive Functioning and Decision Making: Extended drug use can alter the brain's prefrontal cortex, the region responsible for decision-making, impulse control, judgment, and problem-solving, leading to poor decision-making and impulsivity.
- Memory and Learning: The hippocampus, vital for learning and memory, can also be affected, making it harder to learn and remember information.
- Stress Regulation: Chronic drug use can affect the brain's amygdala, leading to increased stress levels and difficulty in managing anxiety and stress, which can potentially contribute to the cycle of addiction.
- Physical Dependence and Withdrawal: Over time, the brain adapts to the drug, diminishing its sensitivity and making it hard to feel pleasure from anything besides the drug. When the drug is withdrawn, it leads to discomfort and withdrawal symptoms, as the brain readjusts to the absence of the drug.
- Neurotoxicity: Some drugs can cause neurons to die due to overactivation or neurotoxicity, causing lasting damage to brain regions.
How does denial impact drug and alcohol abusers?
"Denial can have a profound impact on individuals struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, significantly affecting their health, relationships, and overall quality of life. Here are some ways in which denial can impact substance abusers:
Prevents Acknowledgment of the Problem: The most immediate impact of denial is that it prevents individuals from recognizing and acknowledging that they have a problem with drugs or alcohol. This can delay them from seeking treatment and starting the recovery process.
Perpetuates Substance Abuse: Denial can contribute to the continued use of substances despite negative consequences. Individuals may downplay the extent of their substance use or its impact on their life, allowing the cycle of addiction to continue.
Deteriorates Health: Denial can lead to a lack of recognition of the serious health consequences related to substance abuse. This can result in worsening physical health, including damage to vital organs, increased risk of disease, and potential overdose.
Strains Relationships: Denial can strain relationships with friends, family, and loved ones. It can cause conflicts, broken trust, and isolation, as the individual may reject concern from others or fail to acknowledge the impact of their substance use on those around them.
Hinders Professional and Academic Progress: Denial can prevent individuals from seeing the negative effects of their addiction on their work or studies. This can lead to job loss, poor academic performance, or loss of career or educational opportunities.
Interferes with Treatment: Even if an individual does seek treatment, denial can interfere with the effectiveness of the intervention. An individual in denial may be resistant to treatment strategies, less likely to engage fully in the recovery process, or more likely to relapse.